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Medical School’s Holistic Admissions Process Attracts Diverse Class

Medical students in anatomy lab

By Kevin Dudley

For the first time ever, more women than men enrolled in medical schools in the United States.

The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) reported females made up 50.7 percent of medical students who enrolled in 2017. The number of females enrolling in medical schools in the U.S. is up 9.6 percent since 2015.

That trend matches up with the demographics at the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, where the first class of medical students features 34 females, or 56.7 percent of the class of 60.

“I think this is a great indication that what has historically been known as a male-dominated field is shifting to better reflect the national population and that of Washington,” said Leila Harrison, M.A., M.Ed., the college’s associate dean for admissions, recruitment and inclusion. “It also reflects the shift that is occurring in higher education overall where more women are pursuing college degrees.”

The diversity of the College of Medicine’s class started with getting a diverse interview pool. To do that, the college used a holistic review in its admissions process, which means academics and test scores don’t drive the admissions decisions. Rather, academics and test scores are balanced with the applicants’ life experiences and attributes. That way, a more well-rounded applicant is selected that best fits the mission of the medical school.

The college does have GPA and MCAT combination thresholds, though.

“Once an applicant meets one of those, we blind our process from further assessing these factors, which allows us to fully focus on an applicant’s life experience and attributes,” Harrison said.

This allows students to stand out based on their personal experience. Some have overcome severe hardships, some are the first in their family to graduate from college, and others have degrees in non-science subjects, or even graduate degrees. The ages of the students range from 21 to 36.

Those vastly different experiences benefit the students because in a class of 60, they spend a lot of time together and rely on each other for support.

The class also boasts 11 students who are first-generation college graduates, and 20 members of the class came from low socioeconomic backgrounds.

Having a diverse class helps in the long run. WSU’s medical students are all from Washington or have strong ties to the state, and they’re sent to communities across Washington throughout their four years of medical school, where they’ll come across people in all walks of life.

“It is important that the physicians we produce better reflect the diversity of the state’s population they will hopefully serve,” Harrison said.

Selecting students and serving patients with similar backgrounds in communities across Washington shows prospective medical students that becoming a doctor—no matter your background—is possible.

In terms of the AAMC report, Harrison said the younger generation is noticing.

“As women and girls see more women pursuing a medical education it can serve to inspire, encourage and support others coming behind them to believe being a doctor is possible,” she said.